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Literature / Shane

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The original novel by Jack Schaefer, on which the classic film was based. The novel was written in 1949, and is Schaeffer's best-known work.

The story is narrated by the adult Bob Starrett (who was renamed Joey for the movie), as he tells of his childhood during the summer of 1889. The story starts when the mysterious eponymous horseman emerges at the Starrett farm and asks to use their water pump to freshen up himself and his mount. Joe Starrett, the patriarch of the family, convinces the visitor, who gives his name as simply Shane, to have dinner with them and rest at their home for the night. That one night's stay-over eventually extends to several months, as Shane is hired to help Joe fix up the farm in preparation for the winter and gradually becomes embroiled in Joe and his fellow homesteaders' ongoing feud with local cattle baron Luke Fletcher (who was renamed Rufus Ryker for the movie).

The Film of the Book, which was released in 1953, was reasonably faithful to the novel, but made significant expansions.


Tropes present in the novel include:

  • Always Someone Better: Shane and Joe see each other as this for themselves.
  • Badass Boast: Plenty of times, usually from either Joe or Shane. The latter best exemplifies it in the final confrontation.
    Stark Wilson: I've no quarrel with you, even if you are Starrett's man. Walk out of here without any fuss and I'll let you go. It's Starrett I want.
    Shane: What you want, Wilson, and what you'll get are two different things. Your killing days are done.
  • Bar Brawl: Shane gets into two of these with Fletcher's men. The first time is against Chris, the second time against Morgan and four goons.
  • Berserk Button: Quite a few examples.
    • Joe doesn't take too well to discovering Morgan and his boys ganging up on Shane.
      Bob: (narrating) I had never seen Father quite like this. He was past anger. He was filled with a fury that was shaking him almost beyond endurance.
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    • A second Berserk Button is revealed for Joe after Stark Wilson is introduced, when the latter hints at planning things to Marian. Joe, who's wielding a lever-action rifle at the time, is ready to blast Wilson, but Shane stops him in time due to Wilson being far faster on the draw.
    • Ernie Wright is known to have a quick temper anyway, but alluding to the rumors of his mixed ancestry — well, his mother was not an Indian. Anyone who says otherwise will incur his wrath.
    • Stark Wilson doesn't take kindly to being called a liar. Shooting will ensue... although in this case, he's not really berserk. In fact, Stark's happy that Ernie has, in what passed for frontier law of the day, given Stark a rationale to challenge Ernie to a gunfight.
  • Big Bad: Luke Fletcher.
  • Book Dumb: By his own admission in the narrative, Bob was this as a child.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Two examples in the story:
    • Chris pulls this on Shane, by teasing him that the homesteaders raise pigs (which, for them, is an insult). Shane himself is easily able to ignore the burn, but it's when the other homesteaders start turning on Joe that he decides to give Chris the retort he's been asking for.
    • Ernie Wright ("Stonewall" Torrey in the film) later does this to Stark Wilson by calling him a liar in response to his Berserk Button being triggered. Unfortunately for him, being called a liar is all the excuse Wilson needs to give Ernie this choice: go for his gun, or back down and be labeled and be labeled a Dirty Coward forever. Suffice it to say, it doesn't end well for Ernie.
  • But Now I Must Go: As in the Film of the Book, Shane pulls this following the final confrontation. However, his motive for doing so here differs from the reason given in the movie — here, he wants Bob to grow up with a structured family which only his parents can properly give him.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Shane is not afraid to throw a drink in your face to temporarily blind you, break your limbs, knee you in the balls, punch you in the throat, or stamp on your foot to break out of a hold. In all fairness, in the fight where all this happens, he is fighting five tough cowboys at once. The leader (Morgan) of whom is willing to stoop even lower to Grievous Bottley Harm and Chairman of the Brawl tactics against the unarmed Shane.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: What Shane pulls on Chris during their second confrontation. According to one eyewitness report later, he beats Chris's face so badly that it looks like a horse stomped on it, then breaks his arm...and all of this happens in the space of thirty seconds, with Chris not even being able to land a single hit.
  • Determined Homesteader: Joe Starrett. Nothing, whether threats or hard work, will stop him from eking out a living on his land.
  • Doesn't Like Guns: Shane, to a degree, to the point that he actively chooses not to wear one for the majority of the novel. However, he's not above giving Bob a few pointers about gun usage, as well as informing him that a gun is just like any other tool and can be used for good or evil.
    Shane: A gun is just as good - and as bad - as the man who wields it.
  • The Dragon: Stark Wilson (who was renamed Jack Wilson for the movie) serves as this to Fletcher in the last few chapters of the book. Before him, the cattle foreman Morgan served this role.
  • The Dreaded:
    • Stark Wilson, as evidenced by the bartender Will's reaction when one of the homesteaders informs him that the man is in town.
      Bob: (narrating) Will would not believe it at first when Johnson told him the name. What would (Wilson) be doing up here, Will kept saying.
    • Given the even stronger reaction of Fletcher's new hand when he and Chris come to confront Shane the first time, it's clear that wherever he's been before coming to the Starrett farm, Shane has earned this reputation as well.
  • The Drifter: Shane, of course. As he puts it: "My family came out of Mississippi and settled in Arkansas. Me, though - I was fiddle-footed and left home at 15."
  • Groin Attack: Shane pulls this on one of Morgan's mooks during his second bar-fight by kneeing the man in the crotch. The man is reduced to a whimpering mess who's dragging himself toward the saloon doors.
  • The Gunslinger: Both Shane and Stark Wilson are this to the nth degree.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Chris, just like his film counterpart would do later.
  • Heroic BSoD: Joe has one after being told that Shane has left the valley following the final confrontation.
  • Hoist Hero over Head: Joe is so enraged when he sees five — well, three of the five who started the fight — of Fletcher's men pounding on Shane, he has a heroic instance of this. He pulls one of the biggest off Shane, literally picks him up overhead, and throws him across the room.
  • Honor Before Reason:
    • Joe is absolutely determined to say his final refusal to Fletcher face-to-face, even though he knows Stark Wilson will use the moment to gun him down. Shane has other ideas.
    • Part, though not all, of the reason Ernie goes to his doom at Wilson's hand.
    • Wilson himself seems to have a moment of this when he accompanies Fletcher to the Starrett homestead for some subtle intimidation tactics. Moments after Shane stops Joe from trying to shoot Wilson for making subtle hints about his intentions for Marian, Shane deliberately mocks Wilson, whose gun-hand twitches...but then Wilson relaxes as soon as he sees that Shane isn't armed. Of course, it's likely Wilson realizes that shooting down an unarmed Shane would put him in a Leave No Witnesses situation, and two of those witnesses are a woman and her minor child. He, or at least his boss Fletcher, isn't quite willing to go to those lengths...
  • In the Back: ... On the other hand, Fletcher is perfectly willing to resort to back-shooting once Shane beats Wilson. It doesn't end well for Fletcher.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy:
    • How the Love Triangle referenced below plays out — except in this case, it's Beloveds, plural. Joe has come to love Shane as a brother and, even more, admire Shane beyond all reason for forsaking his life of violence. He also knows Shane loves Marian as much as Joe does, so Joe plans to sacrifice himself for their happiness:
      Joe: It helps a man to know that if anything happens to him, his family will be in better hands than his own.
    • Fortunately for the Starrett family, Shane has come to love Joe equally. He knocks Joe out so that no one can accuse him of cowardice, then rides into town and disposes of both Wilson and Fletcher before leaving the valley forever.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Joe, when sufficiently provoked. Shane's also quite fast and a heavy hitter.
  • Love Triangle: Marian falls for Shane without falling out of love with Joe. Joe and Shane trust and admire each other. All three realize that nothing is ever going to happen between Marian and Shane if things stay as they are, but that things can't stay as they are and resolving the situation is going to involve a life-changing sacrifice from at least one of them.
  • Mighty Glacier: Curly, one of the named mooks Shane fights during his second Bar Brawl.
    "He was stupid and slow-moving, but he was thick and powerful and he had worked in harness with Chris for several years."
  • Mysterious Past: In the Western genre, this novel is a Trope Codifier.
    Bob: (narrating) He would never speak of it, not in any way at all. Even his name was mysterious.... "Call me Shane," he said, and that was all he ever said.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • This is Red Marlin's reaction on witnessing Shane's Curb-Stomp Battle of Chris, realizing they'd been Bullying a Dragon all along.
      Shane: Perhaps you have something to say about soda pop or pigs. (Red Marlin wisely chooses not to answer, but he's sweating in fright)
    • Ernie Wright has a short-lived moment of this on realizing he's in way over his head in answering Stark Wilson's challenge.
  • Quick Draw: Shane and Wilson. Who's faster? It's almost a tie. But Shane has the edge in Improbable Aiming Skills.
  • Retired Gunfighter: Shane was trying to be this.
  • Sacred Hospitality: Had Joe not honored this tradition with Shane, the story would never have happened.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here:
    • When Chris comes to Grafton's to fight Shane, he brings another of Fletcher's hands with him, a newcomer to the valley. Said new guy, looking through the saloon window, recognizes Shane. He turns and walks straight back to his horse, never even entering the saloon, telling Chris, "I'm leaving. Now. For good." When Chris stops him long enough to ask if he knows Shane, the new man says, "I didn't say that. There ain't nobody can claim I said that." Chris, annoyed, taunts him as "yellow". He looks at Chris, looks at Shane again, and tells Chris, "You can call it that." And he gets on his horse and rides out of the town, the valley, and the story. Shane never sees him and never realizes he was there.
    • Red Marlin has an even bigger moment later, when he realizes that the odds have gone in mere moments from him, Morgan and three other brawlers versus one man (Shane) to just him and Morgan versus Shane and Joe.
  • The So-Called Coward: Shane, from the time he refuses to fight Chris because he knows the youngster is no match for him, till he does fight Chris — but only after giving Chris a chance to call it off without crawling, and only with Red there to back Chris up. Not that Red did.
  • Two Shots from Behind the Bar: As with so many other Western tropes, the novel both codifies and inverts this.
    • When five of Fletcher's men surround Shane in Sam Grafton's saloon, intending a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown followed by riding Shane out of town on a rail, Grafton enacts it exactly, along with what for him is a Badass Boast:
      Grafton: There will be no gunplay, gentlemen. And all damages will be paid for.
    • However, when Shane and Stark Wilson have their climactic showdown, Grafton is in the store that adjoins the bar; when he gets to the saloon, the gunfighters are between him and the bar — and the shotgun.
  • Uncertain Doom: Shane, though the winner in the gunfight, has nevertheless caught a bullet from Wilson. Refusing medical aid, he rides off into the night... and is never seen again. Possibly Inferred Survival, if the eyewitness Weir is to be believed:
    Weir: No bullet can kill that man. Sometimes I wonder whether anything ever could.